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Culture key to recovery and prosperity

8th December 2022

Culture, heritage and creativity are essential to our future national prosperity, levelling up and recovery from crisis, according to a Northumbria University professor.

Professor Katy Shaw, Director of Cultural Partnerships at Northumbria University and Director of Creative Communities for UKRI/AHRC, is a commissioner on the Local Government Agency’s (LGA’s) ‘Cornerstones of Culture’ report, launched today.

The final report of the LGA’s Independent Commission on Culture and Local Government says that greater collaborative work between councils and cultural partners, combined with streamlined place-based funding from government, is crucial to supporting one of the fastest growing parts of the economy.

The independent commission was launched in March, chaired by Baroness Lola Young, exploring the role local culture can play in supporting recovery from the pandemic through a programme of stakeholder engagement events and a series of roundtable discussions across four themes: sustainable and inclusive economic recovery; health inequalities; social mobility, cultural education, and creative skills; and place.

Professor Shaw, who is a Professor in English and Creative Writing at the University, was asked to be an independent commissioner for the report and give her recommendations.

She said: “From Carlisle to Cornwall we have seen and heard from individuals, communities and organisations who are tackling some of the biggest challenges facing us all today – education and skills and to health and wellbeing to civic pride and identity – using culture as a vehicle for change making and boundary breaking.

“Covid created the biggest threat to culture in living memory and our report outlines how we must now respond to the challenge of enhancing resilience, sustainability, and support for publicly funded culture in the years ahead.

“Our report makes clear asks to activate its evidence base for future policy making: the value of culture does not begin and end at the economic. When we invest in culture, we invest in ourselves.”

Seventy-five years after councils first invested in the arts in our communities following World War II, the report says local culture can now be used to support mental wellbeing, provide educational opportunity, and boost the economy as part of our recovery from the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.

Local government invests £1.1 billion directly in cultural services each year in England, but this funding is under significant strain with the gap as calculated before the 2022 Autumn Statement standing at £2.4 billion.

Public funding is an essential part of the ecology of the arts and culture in the UK, which underpins growth in the creative industries and visitor economy. In 2019 the creative industries contributed £115.9 billion to the UK and accounted for 2.2 million jobs. These benefits can only be secured in the long-term with a sustainable funding settlement for local government.

It identifies four key ‘cornerstones’ essential to a healthy local cultural ecosystem: capacity, leadership, funding and evidence, and sets out detailed recommendations for securing the future of local publicly funded culture.

Baroness Lola Young, Chair of the Independent Commission on Culture and Local Government, said: “The pandemic was a powerful reminder that people reach for culture in times of crisis, as wellof those of joy and celebration. Access to culture and creativity provides hope and inspiration and enriches people’s lives. That access must be fair for all.

“The publication of this report is not the end of the story. I hope our findings and recommendations will help councils, regional bodies, cultural arms-length bodies and national government to work together with cultural organisations and communities to weather the latest storm and secure the future of this vital community infrastructure.”

Professor Shaw also sat on a commission led by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, calling for greater devolution of power from London to the regions. Labour’s 'Commission on the UK’s Future' report was also launched earlier this week, which recommends substantial reforms to British politics, including handing economic powers over issues including transport and culture to towns and cities.

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Katy Shaw

Professor in the Department of Humanities and lead researcher into twenty-first century writings.

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